CILIPS Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland
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Public #LibrariesAreEssential

Public #LibrariesAreEssential Scotland's Stories logo, with white text on a blue library background

  •  Forward: Scotland’s Public Library Strategy 2021-2025 clearly marks the direction of travel for Scotland’s public libraries, building on strong foundations and the collective desire for a vibrant, sustainable future for Scotland’s public library network. The strategy aligns with the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework and is rooted in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals making a commitment to a greener and more responsible future. ‘Scotland has a proud history of public libraries dating back to the 1850s,’ noted Pamela Tulloch, CEO of the Scottish Library & Information Council (SLIC) when the strategy launched, ‘and it’s a testament to their evolution that they continue to resonate with the public today… Libraries help to reduce the attainment gap, improve mental health and wellbeing, bridge the digital divide, tackle social isolation, reduce inequalities and promote economic wellbeing amongst many other things. With a network of around 500 public libraries in Scotland, they play an essential part to empower communities to thrive.’ Learn more and read the full strategy here.
  • ‘We have chosen to champion Scotland’s libraries, to highlight their work, tell their stories and push for their futures.’ Editor Catherine Salmond and her team at Scotland on Sunday have led an inspiring and impassioned Support Our Libraries campaign since August 2021, emphasising for readers across Scotland and beyond why #LibrariesAreEssential to our story now more than ever. There are many amazing articles to consult (including this one, our personal favourite featuring Head of CILIPS Sean McNamara)!
  • ‘The public library, the local gateway to knowledge, provides a basic condition for lifelong learning, independent decision- making and cultural development of the individual and social groups. It underpins healthy knowledge societies through providing access to and enabling the creation and sharing of knowledge of all sorts, including scientific and local knowledge without commercial, technological or legal barriers. Libraries help ensure that the rights to education and participation in knowledge societies and in the cultural life of the community are accessible to as many people as possible…’ IFLA-UNESCO Public Library Manifesto 2022.
  • ‘When we close libraries we shut doors to the future. We are saying to children: “Stay where you are, no further.” Newarthill Library saved my life by helping me imagine a new one. Everyone deserves the chance – to connect with their community, to enjoy the worlds within books, to tell and, if they want, change their own story. Every library – and every librarian – is essential.’ Damian Barr, award-winning writer, broadcaster and journalist (and one of our incredible CILIPS22 keynote speakers), shares why #LibrariesAreEssential to him. Read the fantastic full quote here.
  • ‘People have missed physical libraries while they have been closed during lockdowns. They are stress-free, calming places where people can go to relax, borrow books or study. They are also social spaces at the heart of communities, where people can take their children. They host events and even, in some cases, have acted as Covid-19 vaccination centres.’ Extensive research undertaken by Dr David McMenemy, Dr Elaine Robinson and Professor Ian Ruthven reveals that the public see digital services as ‘no substitute’ for physical library spaces, with the latter offering an essential, indispensable source of community and connection.
  • ‘Kindness is at the heart of our wellbeing. We know that the relationships we have and the connections we make with those around us are fundamental to improving outcomes for people and communities, and this has only become more evident over the last 18 months. We also know that libraries, positioned at the heart of their communities, are well placed to actively encourage and facilitate opportunities for kindness – indeed, most already do so without even realising it.’ Read Carnegie UK Trust’s Creating Space for Kindness – an experiment with public libraries in Scotland 2021 report to discover why Scotland’s public #LibrariesAreEssential to cultivating kindness in our communities.
  • ‘So much of what we value in Scottish society – education, democracy, equality of access, inclusion – is embodied by public libraries. Where else can everyone, regardless of income, have access to books and ideas from across the world, free of charge, in a safe, supported, community driven environment? To access services which are their democratic right to be provided with? To look for jobs, to build connections, and to stay informed in the challenging, polarised circumstances of today? To read, widely, and be supported to do so?’ Jenny Niven, Chair of Literature Alliance Scotland and Director of Push The Boat Out, Edinburgh’s International Poetry Festival, powerfully articulates why #LibrariesAreEssential to Scotland’s stories now more than ever. Read the full quote here.
  • ‘With the cost of living crisis impacting on so many people’s finances, we recognise another cost, although small, is the last thing that anyone needs…’ In April 2022, South Lanarkshire Libraries joined several other services across Scotland in choosing to cancel all library fines (including existing ones): breaking down barriers that might deter people from using their local libraries and (re)engaging with the unique variety of essential services on offer.
  • ‘For many children in our community, the library is a second home. The staff and I want them and the rest of the community to flourish.’ Muirhouse Library Holiday Breakfast Club provides physical and psychological nourishment for vulnerable young people. Click here to read the case study.
  • Stockbridge Library’s Audio Book Group supports members of the library community who have visual impairments to share their love of reading with like-minded others, and the group even managed to continue online throughout lockdown. Click here to read the case study.
  • In European countries with more public and community libraries, evidence suggests that people spend more time reading. Even 30 minutes reading a week is linked to positive health and wellbeing outcomes including better self-esteem, stress reduction, better sleep, reduced feelings of loneliness and stronger emotional intelligence. In fact, reading for just six minutes a day can decrease stress levels by up to 68%! That’s just one reason amongst many why we’ve supported SLIC’s fantastic #KeepTheHeid and Read, a nationwide reading moment on 11th May 2022. Check out the video below to watch Strathaven Library joining library services across the nation in celebrating #KeepTheHeid

  • ‘They’re a pathway to accurate information, a gateway into other cultures, a chance for people to use computers. They’re a warm reading space for people in cold flats, a meeting place for fellow-readers. They’re the place where a trained librarian will help you through difficult forms, or give you a book that will change your thinking, maybe your life…’ author Marsali Taylor highlights the variety of essential functions that a public library can provide. Click here to read on…
  • Acclaimed authors across Scotland agree that #LibrariesAreEssential to their communities. Click here to learn more about the support that writers including Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin and Denzil Meyrick expressed for Glasgow’s grassroots campaign to Save Whiteinch Library. Ian Rankin also took the time to share a supportive quote with us, telling the world why #LibrariesAreEssential and how he’d ‘be lost without them’. Click here to read on…
  • ‘There are 49 mobile libraries in Scotland, operated by 22 public library services, including Orkney, the Western Isles, Highlands and Islands, Edinburgh and Scottish Borders. Combined, the 49 mobiles operate across a network of 3,000 stops, serving almost 37,000 active mobile library users.’ Scottish Library & Information Council CEO Pamela Tulloch shared this insightful blog with us on 17th November 2021, Mobile Libraries Day, highlighting the essential contribution that these ‘roving hubs’ make to communities: encouraging connection, tackling isolation and sharing the profound power of reading across every area of Scotland.
  • ‘This project was important as the young people’s voices were heard…’ Craigmillar Library supported Castlebrae Community High School pupils with their Junior Award Scheme for Schools programme: conducting research, delivering presentations and even creating clay tiles in a craft project inspired by local history. Click here to read the case study.
  • East Renfrewshire Libraries tackle social isolation and digital exclusion in their community through Virtually Together – running a mixture of library and community-based events in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support, HSCP, Mearnskirk Helping Hands and Barrhead Housing Association to let participants experience virtual reality for the first time. Click here to read the case study.
  • ‘Libraries are often at the heart of the community and have a reputation for being inclusive and welcoming. I realised that participating in this initiative reinforces how essential our services are…’ South Lanarkshire Libraries have partnered with I AM ME SCOTLAND to designate their libraries as ‘Keep Safe’ spaces in the community. Click here to read the case study.
  • Supporting the Connecting Scotland project, which aimed to get 50,000 digitally excluded Scottish households online by the end of 2021, Elgin Library Learning Centre distributed iPads and Chromebooks to local families at risk of digital isolation. One family they helped included a young woman hoping to study medicine, and many other children and young people would be at risk of falling behind in their studies were it not for the library delivering the devices and offering training with how to use them. Click here to read the case study.
  • Aberdeen Libraries also rose to the occasion when the pandemic forced them to temporarily close their physical doors, creating online content for young people including an introduction to video editing skills. Between April 2020 and February 2021, their weekly interactive videos were viewed 31,500 times!
  • Nevertheless, traditional library services were sorely missed by their communities during the spring 2020 lockdown. This Scottish Book Trust blog shared the views of many readers who couldn’t wait to get back to normal. ‘The library was one of my essential life services,’ noted one contributor. ‘After lockdown I will be delighted to get back. My local library does some amazing things for new mums, school children on a Friday and older groups.’ Another voiced their frustrations with the fact that ‘by buying my books rather than borrowing, I have only bought what I knew I would enjoy… Before lockdown, when I borrowed from the library, I was more experimental – I would try a wide variety of authors and genres, and if I didn’t enjoy a book I simply returned it.’
  • From March to December 2020, more than 8,400 people signed up to become new members of Glasgow Libraries, demonstrating the essential role of libraries in providing education, entertainment and even escape for their communities in these challenging circumstances. 200 existing Glasgow Libraries members also took the time to share their insights into why their local library is so essential in their lives. ‘I really need the library due to my mental health,’ noted one user, ‘and I really missed seeing people. All the staff have been amazing and made me feel safe and welcomed.’ Many other members echoed those encouraging comments, with one adding that ‘I use the library daily. I missed the contact with staff and using the computers. The staff in Drumchapel Library make it a wonderful place to visit.’
  • Across the UK, this pattern of people turning to libraries during the pandemic was replicated, with an overall 600% increase in digital memberships and a fourfold increase in the number of e-Books borrowed.
  • ‘Scotland’s libraries are often hubs of local communities. They are a vital resource for many older people across the country and have long been a safe space, not only for accessing books and reference materials but also trusted information sources and computer technology.’ Brian Sloan, Chief Executive of Age Scotland, articulates why public libraries are essential to supporting Scotland’s older citizens. Click here to read on…
  • The Scottish Household Survey 2019 found that going to the library is the most common cultural activity in Scotland for people to take part in at least once a week, with 19% of adults who visit their local library going at least once every week. The survey noted that 75% of adults in Scotland participated in a cultural activity in the past twelve months; if we exclude reading, this number falls to 52%. 9/10 library users described themselves as ‘very’ or ‘fairly satisfied’ with the service, and the survey recognised that satisfaction with libraries in Scotland ‘has tended to be high’ for over a decade. Significantly, satisfaction amongst library service users was unaffected by levels of deprivation, indicating that the essential benefits from libraries are universal for Scots.
  • In 2019, there were more than 43 million visits to libraries across Scotland with over 20 million books borrowed – many times more attendances than even the nation’s most popular football matches!
  • But it’s not all about the books – 25% of people in Scotland who visit their public library at least one a month ‘rarely or never’ read the books. Instead, they take up the many other services and opportunities offered by local libraries – from IT access and job-hunting advice to children’s activities and breakfast clubs, in addition to support for those affected by health conditions like cancer or dementia.
  • As the Carnegie UK Shining a Light report stated, ‘the best public libraries enable citizens to fulfil their potential and act as a trusted and safe civic space that enables engagement and participation’.
  • ‘Thanks to the library acting as a centre for the project, we were able to come together and have a far more meaningful impact than any one of us would have had alone…’ It’s not just human lives that depend on libraries: many also help our animal companions! Learn more with this case study about Blantyre Library’s animal foodbank.
  • Perhaps that’s why 65% of Scots ‘strongly oppose’ trained library staff being replaced by volunteers, with a further 17% ‘tending to oppose’ the idea. This was the most emphatic rejection of the suggestion anywhere in the UK, indicating that Scottish citizens care especially deeply about their libraries continuing to be staffed by a trained and dedicated workforce.
  • Statistically, women are more likely to use libraries and to use them more often, as well as families with children and those either not working or working part-time – and Scotland has the highest library use in the UK! Libraries are therefore well-placed within their communities to help tackle gender inequalities in society, as well as those related to the challenges of childcare and/or unemployment. If Not Now, When? The Social Renewal Advisory Board report January 2021 noted in strong terms (Call to Action 10) that Scotland’s public services ‘should be designed to be inclusive and address barriers faced by women, refugees, older and disabled people, amongst others’. As an essential service already well-used by and supportive of groups of people facing such barriers, public libraries in Scotland are leading by example in this area. Read this blog by CILIPS Membership Officer Kirsten about the vital value of public libraries in supporting Scottish citizens – from providing free prenatal vitamins for expectant mothers to offering accurate, up-to-date support for jobseekers and much more…
  • ‘The psychological and material benefits of being able to access this material for free, in a welcoming space, are huge… our experience suggests that well-funded, professionally staffed public libraries have a world of benefit to offer LGBTQ+ people.’ This insightful blog by Book 28 Director and Founder Isadore Auberbach George highlights why #LibrariesAreEssential to LGBTQ+ communities.
  • As If Not Now, When? highlighted (Part 4: Communities and Collective Endeavour), ‘communities are intrinsically linked to places… places are the heart of the community, can provide shared and sustainable access to products and services, have an ability to focus sustainable and local economic and social activity and can deliver enhanced wellbeing through a sense of place, history, wellness and environmental positivity’. Countless contributors to our campaign including Peggy Hughes, Chair of Literature Alliance Scotland, Gillian Docherty OBE, CEO of The Data Lab, and Brian Sloan, Chief Executive of Age Scotland, have all independently described libraries as ‘the heart’ of their communities, and this physical and psychological centrality makes libraries essential spaces where people can come together to flourish.
  • Can you put a price on all that libraries do? An analysis commissioned by Suffolk Libraries proved that every £1 of investment in their libraries returns an incredible £8.04 in social value – with a total of £284,000 worth of social value created for the NHS by essential health and wellbeing services provided by their libraries. The model they used for determining social value – recognised and supported by Social Value UK – aimed to acknowledge the ‘social return on investments’ that comes from library activities by using financial ‘proxies’ to estimate what the benefit of a library service is. Many libraries offer projects, groups or other activities to reduce loneliness and social isolation, for example, and the London School of Economics estimates that unchecked loneliness can cost the state between £1,700 and £6,000 a person per annum due to its correlation with poorer health outcomes. Click here for some of our favourite examples of how Scottish libraries help people to overcome loneliness and feel part of a caring, compassionate community.
  • ‘Developers in the UK and elsewhere have cited the ‘halo effect’ of library usage for surrounding retailers, bars and restaurants – essentially, any business that relies on passing footfall benefits from having a library nearby. In some cases, the creation of a modern, attractive library venue has resulted in increases of up to 10 per cent in revenues for local business. There is even emerging anecdotal evidence of the positive impact of libraries on local property values.’ CILIP CEO Nick Poole shared with Big Issue readers why #LibrariesAreEssential to both local and national economies – read the full article here and discover why we simply can’t afford to be without them.
  • Public libraries also contribute to the economy through the support they offer to new businesses. The Mitchell Library in Glasgow houses the Business and Intellectual Property Centre Glasgow, part of the Business and IP National Network first established by the British Library in 2006 and aiming to support aspiring business owners through access to extensive market research information, one-to-one consultations, workshops and events. By 2019, analysis indicates that 347 new businesses had been created with the Glasgow centre’s support, generating an additional 96 FTE jobs, £1.8 million sales and £840,000 GVA (Gross Value Added) for the economy. Significantly, the Mitchell Library centre also successfully reaches aspiring business owners who are currently under-represented in the sector. 66% of users are women, 16% are from BAME backgrounds and 49% are aged between 16 and 35. 62% of the businesses set up with the centre’s support also have social and/or environmental objectives (p56), reflecting the essential role of libraries in transforming society for the better.
  • Even Covid-19 lockdowns didn’t stop Scotland’s libraries from connecting with the communities who know and love them. Renfrewshire Libraries, for example, offered free library book deliveries to anyone over 70, people with disabilities and families with children. Despite only beginning in February 2021, by March two hundred people had already signed up for the service, with 102 deliveries made in its first weeks. ‘This is such an important service,’ noted one happy reader, ‘my children are so excited to get new library books again,’ while another described the library staff involved as ‘life savers’.
  • ‘I just wanted to make a piece that was essentially a description of what a library already is… a library is a really incredible resource, it’s so personal to people, there’s one at the heart of each community. They are beautiful utopian spaces.’ Elliptical Reading by artist Abigail Reynolds saw Aberdeen Central Library users reading from beautifully rebound version of their favourite books and creating a treasure trail of ‘misplaced’ titles, celebrating the rich mix of voices including English, Doric, Polish and Arabic that make up the library’s diverse community.
  • Libraries are supported at the highest level of global politics. ‘When I was a little girl,’ First Lady Dr Jill Biden told the American Library Association in January 2021, ‘I’d walk to our local library every two weeks and take out as many books as I could carry in my arms. I’ll never forget the summer nights my mom would let me stay up way too late so that I could finish just one more chapter… Though so many buildings have had to close, the care, creativity, and guidance that you offer became more important than ever as you supported schools and families who depend on you,’ Dr Biden told her audience. ‘That’s what community is all about… My message to you is to never forget what you’re doing matters. Right now, someone out there is a better thinker because of you. Someone is standing a little taller, because you helped them find the confidence they need. Someone is working harder, because you pushed them to try. And someone is kinder, because you showed them what that meant.’
  • #BibliotekerErVigtige – that’s #LibrariesAreEssential in Danish, of course! The February 2021 report The Impact of Public Libraries in Denmark: a Haven in our Communities (click here for a helpful translation into English) noted that libraries offer a ‘haven’ to citizens and a much-needed break from the everyday, but crucially this quality can mean different things to different people. For some, libraries provide ‘peace and quiet and concentration’, while for others ‘it’s about spending time with together’ (p7). We can’t think of another free, public space that means so much to so many, and 88% of Danish library users also said that libraries are important (dare we say, even essential?) because ‘they offer free and equal access to knowledge and culture’ (p44).

Thank you to our student placement Amy Clarke from the University of Strathclyde for her assistance in creating this evidence bank.

graphic kindly created by Xiaowei Jie

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